Books by Harlan Greene

Released: Nov. 1, 1991

Greene's second novel (Why We Never Danced the Charleston, 1984)—about coming of age as a homosexual in the South and returning in the AIDS-afflicted 80's—can be episodic and hurried but also elegiac and offbeat as the story of an ugly duckling who awakens sexually and transforms himself. The unnamed narrator, overweight and cursed with thick glasses and an indoor personality, spends a summer at 13 with his great- uncle and aunt (``Boys should come inside only to eat and sleep'') in Charleston, where he prefers the company of Stevie, a retarded boy, and Lula, the kitchen help. He reads Defoe, Dickens, and Shakespeare, puts up with taunts (``Fatso. Four-eyes. Sissy''), and fantasizes about men in underwear before lyrically invoking the beach and the sea, where a group of boys, who ``went down the beach, as if in a conga line,'' fascinate him. The boys are slow to accept him, but he slips by stages ``from the world I was from into the one by the sea'' in the ``hazy and dream-like'' South. ``I remembered the whispered things, told with giggles, about queers. I wanted to go through with them, to do those things.'' He is both initiate and initiated as he and the boys ``had a series of evenings to pursue our couplings.'' Then the narrative speeds up, and in short order he wanders the country, returns to Charleston for a job with the historical society, and becomes more and more responsible for the retarded Stevie before the latter drowns and the narrator, ostracized by locals who fear AIDS, takes a lover but also discovers that he is indeed physically sick (``No one visits and no one hears''). Greene tries to rush through too much material, and the book's pace falls victim to such impatience. Even so, his evocation of growing up gay in Charleston is memorable. Read full book review >